The next day I set off with another member from the Department of Agriculture and a handful of men from the community to take soil samples. I was told that it would be about a half hour walk through the forest. I was amazed at how intricate the trails were that existed, in addition to how well the people knew them. To any Minnesotan (my home state) they are what we would call a deer trail, which is nothing more than a depression in the leaves going in a specific direction winding through the trees where countless animals have walked, and are easy to lose. The sun quickly disappeared as I continued beneath the canopy walking deeper and deeper through the forest. It wasn’t long before we came up to a tree of immense size. The trunk was at least 12 feet wide, tapering off as it climbed to the sky breaking through the canopy. This is what I had been hoping to see. The deeper that we traveled the more and more frequent they became, some bigger than the first. Not paying attention, I got hung up on a vine that was draping down over the trail. One of the thorns stuck me and put a pretty good size hole in my shirt. I’m very lucky that it was just my shirt as the thorns themselves were as large as a dime in diameter. The trail kept breaking off until we found our first destination, which was marked with a GPS. A group of men began digging through the clay dirt, breaking through the dense roots as best as they could. They had a box of specific dimensions at least a meter and a half deep. I left with another group to find the second location. If it wasn’t for the men that I was with I would have been lost in no time at all, several times I got off of the trail and quickly realized that I was going in the wrong direction. A little off the trail I saw a tree unlike any that I had seen previously. It was one of the largest trees that I have ever seen in my life. Wood has a very high price in the Amazon, which unfortunately means that giants like these are highly sought after. We all worked together in digging the second hole, which took quite a bit of time. As soon as we began working, we were attacked by thousands of bugs (mostly small bees that wanted our sweat) others were mosquitos and flies. At one point I was stung by an ant after touching a tree that it was protecting. It was comparable to a bee sting.
I was told several days earlier that when in the jungle, on must know that they become part of the entire system that exists there. Just because we are humans, it doesn’t mean that we are above the system. As I am quickly learning, the jungle can be ruthless. I later took a break with one of the men and we took off to walk a little further down the network of trails to look for more large trees. It felt so good to be in the forest, especially walking where I wasn’t being constantly bombarded by bugs. We later went back and visited the biggest tree that I had seen, which was even more impressive up close. I was very grateful to have the opportunity to be able to stand in its presence.
I was surprised at how little direct sunlight actually made it to the forest floor; in most parts of the forest the majority of it didn’t even break through the canopy. It reminded me of when I was in elementary school learning about the rainforest and about the different levels of vegetation that grow, where the little bit of sunlight that does make it through the giants that dominate the top levels is often caught well before it reaches the forest floor leaving it in shade. I saw solitary rays of light shooting down through the branches from high above me, reaching the plants that were fortunate enough to fall within their path. In the jungle, everything is fighting for survival from the little ants defending their tree to the numerous species of vines that cover the larger trees in an attempt to climb their way high enough to reach the direct sunlight.
By the time that we got back to the dig site the bugs had quadrupled in amount, to the point that I could hear them swarming. It was mostly the bees, who would land on every part of our bodies. They weren’t aggressive, although they were very persistent. I remember looking over at one of them men helping dig who literally had hundreds of them covering his shirt and arms. We worked quickly to finish the holes, and then took some pictures of the various layers of the soil as well as some samples. Afterwards we headed back to the other site, and once finished we left the forest. After a quick lunch we took off on the river once again, to meet with the rest of the group who had left a day before us.